You probably have a lot of questions about Duke Nukem Forever. Like how is a 12-year-old game going to stand up now? How is a macho meathead like Duke going to fit into the modern world? How much of the game did 3D Realms actually make before they went belly-up? And just what the hell caused the most notorious video game delay in history anyway?
As a long-time Duke fan, I had those questions too. But now I have the answers. And because I know how you feel, I'm going to pass them on to you. Yesterday I spoke to Randy Pitchford, President of new Duke dev Gearbox Software, as well Steve Gibson, the studio's Marketing Director. They were two of the most open, outspoken, and downright funny games industry folk I've spoken to in a long time, and by the time we were done I had one hell of exhaustive interview to write up. Duke Nukem Forever. One metric shedload of information. Right below.
Please note though, I interviewed the guys separately, but as we covered similar ground during both chats I've spliced them both together.
GamesRadar: Were you surprised by how fast 12 years of internet cynicism changed to mass excitement when it was announced that Duke was really happening?
Mike Gibson: A little bit, yeah, there was certainly a healthy amount of fear going in. Because you never know if it’ll be like, say, Snakes on a Plane. Everyone talked about that, but nobody showed up. So it was a bit of a relief.
Randy Pitchford: Kind of. I mean I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect. The world is so fickle. But here’s the thing. The reason I was so comfortable taking the risk was because I know how I felt about it. And like, I’d been one of the first guys to be cynical about it. I used to make this bet with people. Because I had this relationship with folks, people used to think I knew something, and they’d ask me when I thought it was coming out. And I would always say “When do you think it’s coming out?”. And they’d say “I think it’s coming out next year, or in three years” And then I’d say “I’ll make you a bet. You pick any date when you think’s it’s reasonable that it’s coming out, and I’ll bet you any amount of money that it’s coming out after that”. And I never lost that bet. So even I have my cynical kind of thing.
But there’s this other thing that I have, that I think we all had, which is that we want to believe. We kind of needed Duke to be triumphant. We needed it to work out. We love Duke 3D and we just wanted this great game to happen.
Above: Even Marcus Fenix loved playing Duke at PAX
It’s a random kind of thing. The team is involved. Alan came to PAX. Alan (Blum) was there. He’s one of the four guys who created [Duke] and has been part of it the whole time, and he came out to PAX with us. Scott Miller (Duke co-creator) was there too. And every once in a while they’d pop in, and it was like “There’s Scott!”. And the crowd would be like “Wow!” So they’re all part of it. It’s legitimate and authentic. It’s their game.
But also there’s the credibility of Gearbox now. We know how to ship games. We’ve done it. And I think we bring an air of confidence to it.
GR: Duke’s always been a quite divisive character. You either get him or you don’t. Why do you think a character so divisive has managed to lendure for so long?
MG: If you think about a lot of things that become popular or famous, they’re polarising. I guess to use cultural references in general, imagine Howard Stern. People frickin’ loathe that guy, but the thing is, controversy also breeds interest a lot of the time. So I think it’s probably the nature of it. I think that Duke is a bit more on the side of… He is just the man that every man wants to be. He just embodied so many different things that are like “Man, that’s awesome”. Everything that guy does is awesome. "I just want to be a part of that kind of life",
RP: I wish I could figure it out. It’s weird. He’s become an icon. And it’s not because of all the great games that have come out, because there haven’t been any. So it’s the fans that have made him an icon. And I don’t know why that’s happened, but it’s pretty awesome. So I feel privileged to be a part of it.
Above: Me, still not quite believing it
GR: Is he being handled any differently as a character this time around? Back in the ‘90s he was very much tied into that whole ‘80s/’90s action hero thing, but we’re now in a slightly too polite age where it’s not cool to be cool any more. Is he still balls-out Duke?
RP: Well the world’s different today, And Duke’s world has always been kind of similar to ours, like an upside-down version of ours. So Duke Forever takes place in Duke’s today-world, and it’s smart about the way the world is today. But no, he’s Duke, man. He’s not ashamed of who he is. And in his world is all makes sense, and he makes sense. Through the lens of our world it’s ridiculous, it’s absurd, it’s sarcastic, it’s parody, it’s satire. But in his world it all fits,
MG: Imagine balls-out Duke, but he’s also a little bit more aware of the world as it’s changed. In the trailer for example, the “I’d still hit it” line [when confronted by a huge, three-boobed alien boss]. That’s not probably something he would have said ten-plus years ago. He has evolved a little bit, but only in the way of being aware of what’s more culturally relevant. But his persona is still just plain badass, loves blowing shit up. He’s the man’s man, still.
GR: Does he find himself in a situation where that’s in any way incongruous now, or is he still just steaming through and getting away with it?
MG: He gets to do anything he wants.
Above: Not Duke Nukem
GR: How do you think a character like Duke is going to fit into the overall landscape of gaming now? It seems like these days your lead character can’t have any fun at all.
RP: Yeah, it’s really interesting. It’s almost ironic because of that. He’s almost fresh now. Like, here’s the guy who was really an amalgamation of all the action heroes. He was a cliché. And someone who was a cliché when he was created, because of this almost pussification of our heroes over the years, they’ve become so emo, now Duke is actually kind of fresh in this world.
MG: That’s what we were thinking too. We were thinking about what other games are out there and we’re imagining a gamer going to the store or planning his Christmas wish list, and he’s thinking “Man, I want the new Halo, I want the new Call of Duty, I want the new Gears of War, and I want the new Duke Nukem”. And he’s like “Oh man, but I can only get three”. Can you imagine the guy trying to think of which one he’s going to cut from that group? I imagine that there’s going to be some overlap in those other three because they have so many similarities. But Duke is so different from all these other games. So we feel like we have a great situation.